before surgeryNormally I write a (hopefully) humorous blog about the most ridiculous of things.  However, every now and then I feel compelled to write something more serious.  Lucky for you, this is one of those times.

It’s kind of like seeing a unicorn.

At some point in most people’s lives, they have a friend who is sick.  Not just the normal vomiting after a Saturday night of drinking, but something more serious.  If you haven’t had this happen to you, then you’re lucky, although I suspect it will happen at some point in your life.

As someone who has gone through this, I’ve decided to offer some advice on how to behave when a friend or colleague has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.  From lupus to cancer, knowing how to act around someone who is sick is a skill many people lack.

Hopefully these tips will give you some guidance.

cute-15719_640Don’t Ignore It

If you don’t know what to say, simply say that, but don’t ignore your friend when she needs you most.  Don’t let your insecurities about how to act affect how you treat your friend.  She is struggling with a lot and it’s selfish to put your uncomfortable feelings before those of your friend.

This happened to me and I can tell you first hand just how bad it stung.  She was one of the few people I told about my diagnosis and treatment.  She was supportive during the conversation and then?

I.  Never.  Heard.  From.  Her.  Again.

This was someone I thought was a close friend and it turned out she wasn’t.  Either she didn’t care about me or was too worried about herself to continue our friendship.  The reason doesn’t matter.  The end result is the same.  It hurts the person who is sick and who is already hurting so much.

confidential-264516_640Respect Her Privacy

Some people are open about medical struggles and diagnoses but some aren’t.  Remember that although you want to know what’s going on, it isn’t your story.  It’s your friend’s and if she doesn’t want it told, then respect that.

There are many different people in this world and it’s not fair to judge others based upon what we think we would do.  Allow me to tell you this:  you don’t know what you would do.  No one does until it happens to them.

If your friend doesn’t want to give details, then respect it.  She has a reason, and it might just be because she doesn’t want to lose friendships by disclosing too much.

It might also be because she doesn’t want to be viewed as less than normal because she is going through something. Maybe she just doesn’t want to be seen as weak.  Or maybe she doesn’t want to say it outloud because then it would be real.

Or maybe it’s another reason entirely.

The bottom line is that it’s not your place to push.  Respect your friend’s wishes and ask what you can do to help, but don’t pry.

WomanLet Your Friend Know You’re Thinking of Her

Just because she’s sick doesn’t mean she’s dead.  She still wants to feel like people care about her and are thinking of her.  A quick text that says “Thinking of you” most likely will make your friend’s day.  She is probably already feeling out of the loop and depressed about being sick.

Those quick little texts or calls make all the difference.

It also shows who her real friends are; and who they aren’t.  My two best friends, DTCB and The Great Ape, were there for me every step of the way and continue to be.  I’m not surprised at all that these women have been wonderful.  I never doubted them, but it’s nice to have reassurance.

On the other hand, there have been people I would have thought would have stepped up that didn’t; people I normally would have sworn would be there for me if I needed them.  That’s a tough lesson to learn, especially when you’re already going through a dificult time.

The only thing worse than physical pain is emotional pain, and I felt much of that traversing these last few months and realizing who my friends were (and weren’t).

Hand ReachingBe Inclusive

Your friend may not be able to go out to dinner with the girls on a Friday night, but you know what?  ASK.  If she can’t go, she’ll say so.  But not being asked hurts.

It’s hard enough being at home feeling horrible, going to doctors all the time and being prodded and questioned about everything.  That’s a struggle in itself.  Couple that with feeling shut out because you’re sick and it’s positively horrible.

It’s hard to realize life is going on without you when you’re sick.  When you’re not included in plans, it feels like you’ve already been dismissed from the group.  It’s painful and isolating.

Always ask, even if the answer is always no.


Sometimes your friend may just want to talk about something or nothing.  Be there.  Listen to her talk about horrible daytime TV and how the only thing that would make it better is a milkshake.

Listening is one of the greatest things you can do for a sick friend and it’s completely free.  It makes them feel relevant and that someone cares about them even though they’re not able to be social.

Hopefully these tips helped shed some light on things.  Please remember that just because someone is sick doesn’t mean they’re dead.  They’re still here and deserve the love and support of those around them.

Think about how you would feel if people acted certain ways and make it a point not to engage in that behavior.

And bring your sick friend ice cream.  Ice cream always helps.

How to act when a friend has illness

31 Thoughts on “How To Act When A Friend Is Having Health Problems

  1. This is one of the best post I’ve read in years. Having recently taken care of our very dear friend, until the very end, I can relate. xoxox

    • Thanks Mimi! I just kind of rambled on the page but I spoke from the heart and outlined exactly how I feel.

      It’s funny but just writing it made me a little emotional. If just one person changes his behavior and treats a friend differently after reading this, then I’ll be overjoyed.

      I know you can relate to this. Thanks for always being so supportive!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. It’s something we all need to be reminded of – because all of us at some time or another will either be sick, or caring for a friend who is. It’s a part of life and we can’t bury our heads in the sand because it’s uncomfortable, or turn someone else’s sickness into issues about ourselves. Thanks Lisa!!
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    • I can only hope someone reads this and is a better friend next time someone they care about is sick. My dad had a brain tumor when I was younger and I always remember my mom saying how hard it was to see the way people looked at her, or how they avoided her and pretended like she didn’t exist. She was always so hurt by that and it’s something that’s stuck with me through adulthood. Of course, now that I’m on that side of it, I agree that it hurts quite a bit. That’s the kind of damage to a friendship that can’t be undone.

      So glad you enjoyed the piece!

  3. It’s a damn shame that the worst of times can bring out the worst in people. I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through the health issues and the a-holes. P.S. It’s nice to see your softer side. Or whatever. 😉
    Stephanie just rambled about…I’m Cheating On My Computer With My Loose-Leaf NotebookMy Profile

    • It is definitely disappointing when you realize who your friends aren’t. At this point I’m just focusing on the amazing people who did come through for me; some I expected and some I didn’t.

      Thanks for the support on the serious post. I never know if I want to put myself out there like that and be vulnerable but you guys pushed me to do it!

  4. I’m glad you decided to write this, Lisa – I was following the FB conversation and I echo everyone else’s words. Your words are fabulous, whether they are funny or serious. I think many women don’t know what to do to support a sick friend, and I’m sorry that some of yours weren’t there for you. I hope they read this!
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    • Thanks Dana! I just feel like since my site is humor I can’t ever be serious because that’s not why people come to my site. I’m realizing that people need to see the serious side of me. There really is one!

      Thanks for being so supportive. I appreciate it!

  5. Nathalie on June 24, 2014 at 10:18 pm said:

    Lisa, I just want to thank you for this post. Thank you for taking the time to write it. It could not have come to me at a better time. Best friend is starting chemo this week and I was not sure how to act… How to help… Thanks for reminding me of the basics of friendships. Good luck. I just love reading you, so funny.

    • Thank you for reading this and commenting Nathalie! It means so much. I’m sorry your bestie is starting chemo this week. Hopefully this post will help you be the best friend to her, although I’m sure you will anyway.

      Just remember to show her you love her and you’re not freaked out that she’s sick and that you will love her no matter what. Still make her laugh and hold her hand and your friendship will be even stronger than ever.

  6. *pops two gallons of ice cream in the mail*
    I love you’re writing this today. xoxo
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    • Please tell me the ice cream is being shipped in a climate controlled vehicle. I don’t want melted mint chocolate chip.

      And I’m glad I wrote this too. Thanks for encouraging me to push myself. It’s just what I needed.

  7. Holly on June 25, 2014 at 12:32 am said:

    I love this. Supported a friend in many of the ways you described, yet she kind if shut is out. I still don’t know how to process. I put it on the shelf and giving space. Not sure what else to do???

    • If you gave her love and support, that’s all you can do. I suspect she may have shut you out because it’s just so damn hard to handle things when you are feeling so poorly, hyped up on pain meds and contemplating what would happen if you died. It’s some deep stuff.

      My suggestion? Still follow up with her gently from time to time. Even if it’s just a text that says “I’m thinking of you,” it will mean the world. Even if she doesn’t respond, keep doing it from time to time.

      Your mind does strange things when you’re handling something like she is and sometimes it’s hard to have a clear head and focus on what’s important. Things can get lost in that haze. Don’t give up on her. I promise you that every single thing you’ve done is both noticed and appreciated. Sometimes we just don’t know how to say that because it’s such an emotional thing.

      I’m not someone who cries often and it was hard for me sometimes to tell people how much I appreciated them simply because it made me so emotional. One night I felt horrible and Matt had a work thing. My friend Christy called me to check in and she could tell I wasn’t doing well. She asked if I wanted her to come over and I said no. She knew I needed her and came over anyway.

      That was one of the kindest things she ever could have done and it was so emotional for me to see her at my front door. I’m getting teary eyed just thinking about it!

      Just remember she is struggling with not just physical anguish but the mental anguish too. If you ask me, that’s far worse than any physical pain I’ve ever experienced.

      I hope that helped. Let me know if you need other advice or just want to vent about it. I can’t imagine how hard it is to be on the other side of the relationship; to be friends with the one who is sick. Hopefully I never have to experience that. I can only give you my view from the other side and hope it helps.

      Much love to you. You’re a kind and caring friend and she’s lucky to have you.


  8. Katie@SomewhatSaneMom on June 25, 2014 at 7:42 am said:

    Lisa, I LOVE this! It’s really great advice. And when shit hits the fan, you truly find out who your friends are. That’s for sure!!!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • You are so right about that! It’s funny how you figure out who you can rely on when times really are tough. I know it’s strange to say, but in a way I’m grateful for this experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about who my friends are. There have been some pleasant surprises.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for letting me know!

  9. This really spoke to me … at a time when I needed to read it. Thank you. Just thank you. <3
    Real Life Parenting just rambled about…Hymen Hysteria–Get Out of My Daughter’s VaginaMy Profile

    • I’m so glad this spoke to you. Handling illness is always difficult and I’m amazed at how many people don’t know how to act.

      When my dad had cancer when I was younger I remember my mom telling me about what actions hurt and one of them was when people didn’t say anything….or when they went out of their way to avoid her. I never thought about how much ignoring the situation would hurt but it really does. It hurts more than someone fumbling about what to say.

      I hope this helped you or someone you know. Best to you.

  10. People suck. I mean, not all people…but friends who play Houdini when someone is sick? DOUCHE MOVE.

    Friends who are there unconditionally? KEEPERS.

    This post speaks volumes and I’m sending good thoughts and digital friendship your way.

    • Thank you so much Chrissy! I appreciate it. It’s been a rough several months but I really think I’m stronger because of it. I also definitely know who my friends are (and who they’re not.)

      There were a few people who pleasantly surprised me too. You just never know!

  11. You know I can relate 100 percent on many different levels. Great post, and you know where to find me. Totally sharing this now.
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  12. What a great post for people (me being one of them) who don’t know what to do. Love you. Love this post. Rock on sista!
    Dried-on Milk just rambled about…Washable Chalk PaintMy Profile

    • Thanks! This really is something people need to know. If they’ve never been exposed to it then they don’t know how much not doing something can hurt more than doing the wrong thing.

  13. Love that you wrote this. Illness and grief seem to be the hardest things to discuss. And you’re right: you never know what you’re going to say.
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    • I’m glad this resonated with you. It really is hard being on both sides of these situations, but I think knowing how the sick person may feel is a start. You just never know…..

  14. Katie on June 26, 2014 at 11:46 pm said:

    OK, So this spoke to me IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. I was diagnosed with luekemia last July and everyone except a VERY few people have even asked me how I was. I have felt completely abandoned and So Freaking alone lately. I have some leukemia facebook pages that I can relate to but no they are not close friends or family. July 25th is my cancerversary and I can’t believe that I feel this alone. I want to scream this to the world and I want them to hear and react and hold me up, because the world is crushing me right now, and I couldn’t feel more alone.

    • Katie,

      This note is heartbreaking. I know exactly how you feel and I’m sorry you’re going through this alone. People don’t know how to handle serious illness and they respond in the most painful of ways.

      How are you feeling? Are you doing okay?

      Do you have a friend or two you can be honest with about your feelings? Like a few that would be willing to listen to how you feel and what you need? Sometimes people really don’t know how to handle things and maybe gently leading them in the right direction would help.

      Just a thought.

      I’m so very sorry you’re feeling so down and alone. It breaks my heart to know that and not be able to reach out and give you a hug. Please know that I’m doing that now. I’m here if you want to email about things. I’m more than happy to listen and I bet I understand.

      Much love to you.


      • Katie on June 30, 2014 at 12:14 am said:

        OK here’s EXACTLY what I mean. I shared this blog on facebook with my 433 “friends” and I put something on there saying that I felt alone in this and I wish people would understand and that we are not lepers and that I don’t even know how to deal with my illness, so please don’t feel bad if you don’t. NOT ONE single person responded or even “liked” it. NOTHING. I even “bumped it twice”. I guess I am a leper. I guess it’s not that people don’t know what to do, they just don’t care. I’m sorry I got sick. I don’t want my freaking cancer. I never asked for it, but it feels like I deserve it. I know this is a pity party but my moms not talking to me, I recently asked my boyfriend for help and he bailed. I can’t work, I’m trying to go to school to be an addictions counselor but I won’t be able to get a good job for a long time. I was a server but I can’t do it any more, too tired from the chemo meds, that I will be taking for the rest of my life. I filed for disability but by the time it kicks in (maybe up to two years) I will have already lost my house. I couldn’t feel anymore punished if I tried. I guess I’m asking strangers where my friends are? My family? The people that are supposed to love me? Where are these people that will make some excuse as to where there were when I needed them. And I’ll probably get more support from complete strangers than I would from people that I’ve known all my life. WTF.

  15. Lisa, I come to your blog for your personality, not just the funny stuff. That said, I enjoyed the ideas you brought up and imagine they will be helpful to anyone that reads this.
    John Bryson just rambled about…Piano ManMy Profile

    • Thanks John! I was so hesitant to write a serious piece because I didn’t know if my readers would be disappointed that I wasn’t always giving humor. However, I’ve had several people tell me this piece was helpful and that makes me so happy.

      At the end of the day we write to make an impact on someone; whether it be to make them laugh or cry or just to think. Hopefully my writing does some or all of that.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I always appreciate the support you give me on all my stuff.

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